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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Britain

Trajan Aurelius (of Druid’s Portal: The First Journey, by Cindy Tomamichel)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a soldier from Ancient Rome, right at the time of Commodus. He’s here to tell us about life in Roman Britain, about civilisation and and blue barbarians, and about surprising love that grew in between.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I lived on the family farm, in the foothills above Rome. Our family have farmed there since before the time of Caesar. Olive trees larger than any I have since seen, and fruits and grains that were in demand at the table of Apicius. So my Grandmother told me.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Toys? I was my Fathers only son, and expected to follow in his footsteps. My toys were weapons, a wooden sword I splintered with usage, a shield I scrawled the wolf of Rome on, and pretended to be a soldier repelling Hannibal.

And yet I well remember those long days of Summer when I ran hunting wild goats with the sons of slaves, the smell of crushed herbs underfoot. The heat of the sun is a welcome memory, for the sun in Britannia is never so warm as that of Rome.

What do you do now?

Aye, that is a tale long in the telling. For once I was a soldier of Rome, fighting the blue painted barbarians in this chill island of Britannia. The excesses of the emperor Commodus sickened me, and with my family gone, I left Rome. I served the Empire in the forts along Hadrian’s Wall, training men to fight, and bringing Roman civilization to a land of barbarians. I expected little else, and my life was filled with the sounds of fighting, and drinking to forget the faces of the men that I met in battle.

Yet that all changed, for on the verge of being killed by the Celts, I was rescued by a flame haired Goddess. Yes, after Janet appeared in my life, nothing was ever the same. I soon realized that protecting her was worth more to me than even my duty to Rome. She had enemies that wished her dead, and a bold spirit that leaps into adventure. I had my hands full – in many ways- keeping her safe. Roman Britain and the borderlands of Hadrian’s Wall was not a safe time or place for anyone. Continue reading “Trajan Aurelius (of Druid’s Portal: The First Journey, by Cindy Tomamichel)”

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Tilla (of the Medicus Roman Mysteries series, by Ruth Downie)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the wife of an officer in Hadrian’s legions. We have interviewed her husband before, but we thought it only fair that we give her a voice too.

Born as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae (really, she’s not quite sure why people prefer ‘Tilla’), on the furthest reaches of the Roman empire. Though married to a Roman officer, she is a healer (and now a Roman citizen) in her own right.

She is here to tell us about life bridging the British and Roman worlds.

This interview celebrates the release of Memento Mori, the 8th volume in the acclaimed Medicus series, which we’re just nuts about.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Well, it was NOT “some flea-bitten outpost beyond the last supply depot”, no matter what my husband’s friend might tell you.  One of the things I’ve learned about Romans is that they’re very good at having opinions on things they know nothing about.

Our farm used to overlook a beautiful wide river valley. I say ‘used to’ because there’s hardly a trace of any buildings there now. Sometimes when I listen to our old neighbours complaining about the emperor’s Great Wall across the land, I want to say to them, well at least you’ll never have to worry about the northerners coming in the night to steal your cattle and burn your house down, will you? But I‘ve learned to keep quiet.  Roman soldiers have a nasty habit of setting light to things, too. Which can be very awkward when you’re married to one of them.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I try not to think about when I was a child, because then I think about my brothers, and I start to wonder about the men they would have grown into and the girls they would have married and all the nieces and nephews that will never be, and as our Mam used to say, Nobody likes a girl who feels sorry for herself. I used to find that very annoying at the time, but it’s true.

What do you do now?

Ah. Even though I was the one who wanted the baby, I didn’t mean I wanted to have to look after her all day and all night, all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to think about something else. Sometimes it’s nice to get all the way to the end of a conversation without having to stop and wipe up somebody’s dribble or pat them on the bottom. So it’s much better now we have a babyminder.  I can go out and earn some money helping deliver other people’s babies, and when I’m not doing that I’m free to help my husband when he gets himself into trouble. Which he’s quite good at.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

We were asked to rush south to the spa town of Aquae Sulis, because my husband’s best friend was accused of murder. Really I think it was just my husband who was asked, but I guessed he would need some help, and I couldn’t leave the baby behind, so we all went.

What did you first think when you heard that Valens was accused of murdering his wife?

At first I thought, that’s impossible. Then I thought, but Valens was always a useless husband, and then I thought, surely being a useless husband and having opinions on things you know nothing about does not make you kill your wife.  But then my own husband found out more, and we both began to wonder.

What was the scariest thing in your adventures?

I would like to say it was the terrible thing that happened when my husband went missing, and that was indeed very frightening. But so was being tied up in a shed and lying awake listening to the rats. Of course I didn’t know my husband was going to go missing at the time. Perhaps that’s just as well. Is it possible to die of fright? I don’t want to find out.

What is the worst thing about being married to a doctor?

Usually it would be the people calling on him at strange hours, or the peculiar smells when he boils up medicines, or the disgusting topics of conversation. But the worst thing about being married to this doctor is the constant moving house. I thought things would improve when he left the Army, but we still don’t have a cow or even a vegetable patch.

What is the best thing about it?

I have seen parts of the world none of my own people will ever see. That is how I know that Britannia is best.

What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?

Beer, blue sky (rare and precious in my homeland) and singing songs about the great victories of my ancestors. My husband complains that the songs are very long, but my people have a lot of ancestors. We also had a lot of victories—until the Romans turned up. That is why we keep the memories alive: our children need to know where they come from, and that our land has not always been occupied by men from Rome.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to say a cow, a sunny vegetable patch and perhaps another baby. But I expect it will just be more packing and unpacking and getting my husband out of trouble.

Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?

I could, but once something is written down you never know who will find it and read it. That is why my people only pass on their secrets by word of mouth. So, do you promise not to write anything? Good. Come and sit beside me and I’ll whisper…


Ruth Downie read far too much Jane Austen at University, and ended up with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She took up writing fiction when she realized that she could make absolutely anything happen using only a piece of paper and a biro.

Her murder mysteries are mostly set in Roman Britain, because she’s fascinated by the idea of her ancestors living in the wild west of someone else’s empire. MEMENTO MORI, her eighth novel about a Roman army medic called Ruso and his British partner Tilla, is published in March 2018.

Join us next week to meet a the captain of a mercenary team. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.

Tom Islip (of Shadows of the Lost Child by Ellie Stevenson)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a boy from Victorian Curdizan, a fictional version of York, England.

He’s here to tell us about his life, and how it changed when he met Alice. Alice, you see, is from our own time – though she can visit the past, and interact with Tom and his mates.

Read on to find out about Tom’s life and time-crossing adventures.


Tell us a little about where you live. What’s it like?

Curdizan Low? Well, I like it, but I doubt you would. If I say, back street pubs, narrow lanes and open drains, you get the idea? Being just a lad, I’ve never known anything else, of course, but Louise, my mate, she told me once she couldn’t wait to get out of the place. But, then, she lives in Curdizan High, it might sound posh, but it’s definitely not  – she lives in a place called Pearson’s Tenements, five stories high. I once saw a woman jump from the top. She didn’t die, but she never walked the same after that. The rats in the High are the best thing about it. I didn’t even see Louise – she’s vanished from sight.

So what makes Haversham Road in the Low better?

It’s a house not a room, although our house does back onto the mill. That’s why it’s dark, there aren’t any windows at the back and not much light at the front either, the mill’s silo blocks it out. My da, Scotty, works at the mill, or that’s what he calls it, when he’s not drinking, and I go to school, they feed us there! The school’s not far from the tenements. When I can, I bunk off for a bit and visit my mate, Ben Tencell, he’s the man who makes the coffins and buries the dead. It’s a bit creepy in his workshop, with all those coffin lids on the walls. Even Norah, the horse is scared. Ben’s house has a secret tunnel, under the workshop, that leads to the church. That’s how we had our adventure… Continue reading “Tom Islip (of Shadows of the Lost Child by Ellie Stevenson)”

Dai and Julia (of Dying to be Roman, by Jane Jago and EM Swift Hook)

Dear readers, tonight with me are two people from the modern-day Roman province of Britannia. They are here to tell us about life as law-enforcement officers in the empire that never collapsed.

An unlikely pair, Dai is a Briton and a hard-working Investigator trying to solve a brutal string of murders and Julia, a Roman Inquisitor, sent to pour oil on troublesome provincial waters when a Roman citizen joins the body count.

They are here to tell us about their adventures.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Julia: I spent the first five years of my life in the slums that gather around the skirts of Rome. Then my mother died and my grandparents took me in. It still wasn’t a good part of town, but I was loved and I had enough to eat.

Dai: For a Briton, I had it pretty good. My family are well known landowners around Viriconium. No Citizen rights, of course, which meant my education was pretty rustic. But it’s a lovely place when you get out into the hinterland away from the city itself. I did well enough at school to get into the academy in Aqua Sulis – yes, we do have one or two academies in Britannia, even if they are not in the top one hundred recommended.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Julia: I suppose my favourite thing was my adoptive brother: he’s twenty years older than me and when he was home he would carry me around on his back. And my grandmother had a little dog called Toto. I would spend hours combing his coat

Dai: I loved running and I still pride myself on my physical fitness. As a boy I was a reader and a dreamer, always trying to hide from chores on the family farm. There was a place I used to love going to – a small valley with standing stones. No one ever went there, so I would run there and sit and read with my back to one of the stones. Continue reading “Dai and Julia (of Dying to be Roman, by Jane Jago and EM Swift Hook)”

Captain Jack Boone and Miss Katherine Ashe (of Captain’s Lady, by Jamaila Brinkley)

Dear readers, tonight with me are two enchanting characters out of the Regency era. Captain Boone would like nothing more than to – legally – plunder the seas. When he finds himself made a viscount, his friends and family insist he needs a wife.

Katherine Ashe wants only to help her sister, who’s caught in an unpleasant predicament. When marriage to Boone seems to be the only solution, she takes the opportunity to have her own household, escaping her overbearing aunt’s house once and for all and helping her sister in the bargain.

But before their convenient marriage can settle in, there’s a flight to Scotland to arrange; a budding sorceress to soothe—and oh, yes—a baby. 

They are here to tell us about their somewhat chaotic lives.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Jack: I spent the bulk of my formative years as a ward of the Duke of Edgebourne, a distant relation. His Grace took me in when my parents died at sea, and the entire Edgebourne family welcomed me. The Duke did his best to give me a proper education, but I’m afraid I was far more interested in when I might be able to get my own ship.

Kate: I grew up on my grandfather’s estate. He was the Earl of Ashewell. I helped him manage his estates for years. Unfortunately, my family has had a string of sad occasions, I’m afraid, and so the earldom passed to a distant cousin recently.

What are your fondest memories of your childhood?

Jack: Running rampant over the estate with Lords Westfield and Kilgoran, my two closest friends. I’m afraid we terrorized virtually everybody.

Kate: You still do.

Jack: We’re practically tame now.

Kate: That’s not what I heard after Lady Mountmatten’s ball. Continue reading “Captain Jack Boone and Miss Katherine Ashe (of Captain’s Lady, by Jamaila Brinkley)”

Captain Hollie Babbitt (of Red Horse by M. J. Logue)

Red Horse - M J Logue

Dear readers, tonight with us is Captain Hollie Babbitt, of the Parliamentarian Army. A scruffy ex-mercenary, his command includes a posh poet, a bad-tempered horse, and a troop made up of every rebel, dissenter and horse-thief the rest of the Army didn’t want.

 

 

Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up? What is the best memory of your childhood?

Has my wife put you up to this? That sounds like her kind o’ daft question.
I grew up in Lancashire, in Bolton, on the edge of the moors. There’s some folk as believe I was dragged up not brought up, which I was not. Never knew my mother, and the old – sorry, my father – hated me for better part o’ thirty-six years. Mam died having me, and he always said he’d have took her life over mine, if he’d been asked. That, and he never wanted a lad; he wanted a little girl, if he’d had to have a child instead of a wife.

I grew up a bit wild, bit not wicked. Neglected, you might say. I reckon the old mon thought if he beat me hard enough and often enough it’d do for bringing me up. The daft thing is, he thought he was doing the right thing. Thought if he let up on me I might go off and be a worse sinner than I was. Didn’t want me to bring shame on mam’s memory. Very godly feller, the old mon.

That’s not the sort of childhood you end up wi’ good memories of. Although there was a lass in Bolton that I was very fond of – no, not like that! Well, a bit like that – bless her, she used to look after me, slip me gingerbread, the odd hot pie, when he wasn’t around. I thought a lot of Gatty Norton. The old man taught me my letters, and my manners, but Gatty taught me kindness. Saw her again just before Marston Moor, but that – well. That’s a story for another time. She deserved better.

Oh aye – and she gave me a bit of a fondness for competent women, especially if they’re heavy-handed wi’ cake. But don’t mention that in front of the missus, eh? Continue reading “Captain Hollie Babbitt (of Red Horse by M. J. Logue)”

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